Monday, 16 May 2011

Bloodshed on the Israeli border

Yesterday, the Israeli Defence Force killed at least 12 people at the borders with Palestine, Syria and Lebanon. Demonstrators marking the Nakba - or Catastrophe, referring to Israel's founding in 1948 - were gunned down for either throwing stones or getting to close to the borders.

The action has a clear continuity with Israel's long history of disproportionate responses and repressive force against the Palestinians. Whilst Israel is filing a complaint against Syria and Lebanon for breaches of UN regulations and international law (without a hint of irony), Palestinians in Lebanon have declared a day of mourning for those who bore the brunt of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's warning - "let nobody be mistaken, we are determined to defend our borders and sovereignty."

But what is especially interesting to look at here is the narrative being played out in the Western media. All the talk is of "clashes" or "violence erupting," to gloss over the fact what happened was Palestinian protesters were shot by Israeli military forces. It has also become common to talk of Syria deliberately engineering the confrontation in order to distract from internal troubles.

However, as Haaretz notes;
It's all too easy to draw a line connecting Tehran, the Golan Heights and Maroun al-Rass. It's even easier to link Sunday's Nakba Day events with those anticipated in September. But the facts that the border between Syria and the Golan Heights was stormed by Palestinians of all people and that Israel fired into Lebanon at something other than a Hezbollah provocation are not exactly what either Bashar Assad or Hassan Nasrallah had been praying for. 

Some say that Sunday's events serve Assad by diverting media attention from the ongoing killings of demonstrators on his own territory, while playing into the hands of Iran, which is pushing for a militant line against Israel. But the main Arabic TV networks, which led with the Nakba Day events, didn't spare their audiences reports about events in Syria, and even Syria's own state media, which gave the Nakba considerable space, went on with its propaganda war against the opposition protesters. 
There is a comparison to be made with the uprisings in Syria - not to mention elsewhere across the region - but unfortunately it is not the one that those in positions of established power want.

That is that, just like ordinary people across the region, Palestinians have long suffered under a repressive regime. Israeli apartheid (PDF), their punitive treatment of everyone in Gaza for electing Hamas, and a whole raft of other human rights violations are well documented. Also, just like elsewhere, a secular youth movement has emerged determined to break with the Islamists and resist the repression on a very different basis.

All of which poses a significant threat to Israel's long-standing strategic value for the United States and other imperial powers. Unlike in Libya, say, it will not be easy to shed support for one side of the conflict and throw your lot in with the other - not because of the so-called "Israel lobby" (which is submissive when the US actually does chastise Israel, at any rate) but because no other regime in the region is an embattled nuclear power, and thus the most vociferous enforcer of a tragic and unstable status quo which yields considerable economic benefit.

But, at the same time, it is becoming more difficult to assert the propaganda line as more people wake up to the fact that states have only one interest at heart - their own. Commentary on "humanitarian intervention" doesn't work in the wake of Iraq, no matter how hard people have tried to revive it for Libya, and the secular nature of the Arab Spring exposes talk of terrorism seem frankly ridiculous.

Palestinian protesters will no doubt see good in this, a crack in the Western propaganda narrative perhaps leading to a crack in the walls that keep them caged. This could well be the case, and with the whole region around them in turmoil it will be harder for Israel to sell themselves as the good guys when putting down any uprisings.

But the collorary to this is that, without concerns for PR, repressive action simply becomes more overt and the state more defiant in the face of condemnation. The US has deliberately allowed Israel to remain embattled for 40 years, making this outcome a near-certainty rather than a possibility.

As I noted on the Arab uprisings more broadly, there is no definite outcome nor any guarantee that uprisings across the region will end with the same or similar results.